Tragically, many families lose loved ones every year due to the carelessness of others. In Georgia, these incidents give rise to legal causes of action known as “wrongful death” claims. Under Georgia law, wrongful death claims arise “in all cases in which the death of a human being results from crime, from criminal or other negligence, or from property which has been defectively manufactured, whether or not as the result of negligence.” These claims are governed by a specific set of rules enacted by the Georgia legislature. The Athens Injury Law Group’s team of experienced wrongful death lawyers explain in this blog article how a wrongful death lawsuit works in Georgia.
WHO CAN RECOVER DAMAGES FOR WRONGFUL DEATH
One of the first legal determinations that must be made in wrongful death cases is who may pursue the claim. Georgia law requires that wrongful death actions be brought by the surviving spouse of the decedent (i.e., the person killed). If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s child (or children) may pursue the claim. When the decedent does not leave behind a surviving spouse or child, the right to recover for wrongful death rests with the parents.
HOW WRONGFUL DEATH DAMAGES ARE DETERMINED
Another important issue to understand in wrongful death claims is the types of damages that are recoverable. Attorneys handling lawsuits arising from wrongful deaths that occur in Georgia will typically pursue two distinct legal claims. The first is the wrongful death claim, and the measure of damages in Georgia for this claim is defined by statute as the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence.” Unlike other states, Georgia has a very unique measure of damages for wrongful death because it uses the value of the decedent’s life to him or her, not the plaintiff pursuing the claim or anyone else. This is important because it means that the measure of damages in a wrongful death action in Georgia is the same as if the person killed had survived his or her catastrophic injuries and was instead rendered totally and permanently disabled. The only difference is that there can be no recovery for future medical and living expenses.
The second claim in these cases is what wrongful death lawyers refer to as the “estate claim.” If there is evidence that the decedent was aware of his or her injuries and impending death, that evidence will support an estate claim for damages for the decedent’s last pain and suffering. In addition to pain and suffering, the other components of an estate claim include any medical expenses incurred by the decedent to treat the injuries that caused his or her death, and the burial and funeral expenses.
Although punitive damages are generally prohibited in Georgia wrongful death actions, they may be awarded in connection with the injuries and pain and suffering of the decedent that support the estate claim. Evidence of the at-fault party’s “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences” will warrant the imposition of punitive damages.
WHEN WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUITS MUST BE FILED IN GEORGIA
With some exceptions, the statute of limitations in Georgia requires that claims for wrongful death be filed within two years of the date that the death occurs. The statute of limitations does not begin to run until actual death, even though the injury causing the death may have happened months or even years beforehand.
Even though in Georgia a plaintiff usually has two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death action, if your family has lost a loved one due to the criminal or negligent conduct of another, it is best that you speak to a qualified wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. To consult with the Athens Injury Law Group’s experienced personal injury lawyers, please call 706-559-0159 or request a consultation here.